The life of actress Mary Jeanette Robison

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
Academy Award nominated actress Mary Jeanette Robison, was a family friend the Beeson's of Dodge City. SUBMITTED PHOTO

She was the "grand old lady of show and screen" and she was a friend of Merritt and Elizabeth Beeson, and daughter, Irene.

Mary Jeanette Robison began her life in the outback of New South Wales, Australia on April 19, 1858 where her British parents had settled in 1857 after moving to Australia in 1853.

Her first home was her father's hotel who died in 1860 from tuberculosis.

In 1862, her mother married the mayor of Albury, NSW and the family moved to Melbourne. In 1870, they moved to London, England where Mary attended school at Sacred Heart Convent. She also studied in Brussels and Paris.

On Nov. 1, 1875 she eloped with her first husband, Charles Gore, in London. The couple moved to the United States in 1877 and attempted to begin a new life near Fort Worth, Texas.

Though they had three children there, disease and loneliness overcame them, and within two years they left for New York where Gore died shortly after they arrived.

With little money, Robison made ends meet by doing arts and crafts and teaching painting. Only one child, Edward Gore, was alive when she began her acting career.

Her stage life began on Sept. 17, 1883 when she performed in "Hoop of Gold" at the Brooklyn Grand Opera House.

Her billing mistakenly dropped the "i" in her last name listing her as "Robson." "For good luck" she used that name for the rest of her career. Somewhere along the way, she became "May."

Her luck seemed to hold.

For nearly six decades Robson found success as a comedian and character actress in stage and screen. Perhaps her association with manager and producer, Charles Frohman, and the Theatrical Syndicate had something to do with her stage success as well.

In 1889, she married her second husband Augustus Brown, a police surgeon. This marriage lasted until his death in 1920.

Her first appearances in the silent movie industry were in the shorts "The Terrible Kids" (1906) and "Getting Evidence" (1907). She did a cameo of herself in 1915 in the silent movie "How Molly Made Good." She co-wrote an adaption of the play "The Three Lights" as a silent called "A Night Out," which she starred in in 1916.

In 1927, Robson moved to Hollywood and began played character parts as older women in dozens of motion pictures. In 1931, he starred in her first "talkie," "The She Wolf."

At the age of 75 she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the 1933 film "Lady For a Day."

She was the first Australian and the earliest born person to receive this honor. She lost to the great Katharine Hepburn.

Not too long before the movie "Dodge City" came out which starred Errol Flynn, Robson performed with Flynn in the 1937 film "The Perfect Specimen."

Her final role was Mlle. Rosay in "Joan of Paris" in 1942. This same year she died at age 84. Her ashes are interred with her second husband, Augustus Brown, at Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York.

It is uncertain how the Beeson's came to be friends with May Robson, but Boot Hill Museum collections holds two letters written in the from her one to Merritt and one to Irene written in 1922 and 1935 respectively. The Beeson's also had a program for her performance in "Something Tells Me" from 1924.

The most significant artifact in the Museum's collection associated with Robson is a large framed photograph with her autograph "With Love & Best Wishes to dear Mr. & Mrs. Merritt L. Beeson from this old friend May Robson 33."